BOULDER, Colo. » A judge determined Tuesday that a Colorado woman charged with cutting an unborn baby from a stranger’s womb will stand trial in a case that has reignited the debate on the legal rights of fetuses.
Colorado does not have a fetal homicide law. On Monday, a bill that would have allowed prosecutors to file murder charges for killing a fetus was killed in the Legislature.
Dynel Lane, who appeared in court for her preliminary hearing in Boulder, is charged with attacking Michelle Wilkins and removing her 8-month-old fetus after Wilkins responded to a Craigslist ad for baby clothes. Wilkins, 26, survived the March 18 attack at the Longmont home, but the baby girl did not.
Because prosecutors say there is no evidence the baby lived outside the womb, Lane was charged with unlawful termination of a pregnancy. She also is charged with attempted murder for attacking the mother.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett called one witness to testify Tuesday: Longmont Detective Stacey Graham, the lead investigator on the case. In an interview the day after the attack, Graham said Wilkins told her she arrived at the house just before noon and she and Lane spoke for about an hour and 15 minutes. Wilkins told the detective she was about to leave when Lane said she had more baby items downstairs.
Wilkins told investigators she went downstairs and was hit from behind with what felt like an open-hand slap.
"She was shocked," Graham testified, adding that Wilkins thought Lane had hit her because she had a spider on her.
Wilkins told the detective that Lane then began lifting up her shirt and trying to put pillows over her face. Wilkins was then hit in the head with what she described as a bottle, which was later found to be a lava lamp.
"Michelle is a holistic, loving, affectionate, outgoing person," Graham testified. "She thought if she sent her love the attack would stop. … She told Miss Lane that she loved her."
Wilkins said she was stabbed in the neck with a broken piece of glass, after which Lane told her "If you love me, you would let me do this." Wilkins also told Graham that Lane tried to strangle her but the amount of blood made Wilkins’ neck too slippery.
But Graham also testified that Lane told her Wilkins attacked her with a knife and she became worried about the baby.
"She said she cut the baby out of her in order to save it," Graham said, referring to Lane.
Graham testified that Lane had told her husband, who is not charged in the case, that she was pregnant and had given birth to their baby while she was walking up the stairs. Lane’s husband found the baby in a bathtub, considered dialing 911 but decided to drive both Lane and the baby to the hospital.
Wilkins dialed 911 at about 2:40 p.m.
Graham said she found Lane in the maternity ward of the hospital clutching the still-wrapped body of the baby, which Lane later admitted wasn’t hers.
Prosecutors filed the unlawful-termination charge under a new law intended to be a compromise between opponents and supporters of abortion rights. The maximum punishment for the felony is 32 years in prison, while a person convicted of homicide in the state could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Wilkins’ family spokesman, Mike Perini, said Wilkins continues to recuperate, "physically and spiritually," and that she has left the state to be surrounded by friends and family. He declined further comment on her whereabouts.
On Monday, Democrats rejected a Republican measure to create a new crime of fetal homicide, legislation that was crafted in response to the attack on Wilkins. The bill would have allowed prosecutors to file murder charges for the killing of a fetus, although it would not have applied to the Longmont case.
About three dozen states have fetal homicide laws.
Democrats said the measure’s language could be broadly interpreted to infringe on reproductive rights because legal protections would be extended to unborn children. A Democratic-controlled House committee rejected the bill on a 6-5 party-line vote.
Associated Press writer Ivan Moreno in Denver contributed to this report.